A Nigerian friend of ours was once asked, at a party, if he had encountered racial prejudice. He looked at the questioner, and relied “Not from intelligent people”. I have used the same response myself since moving to Scotland, when the question of anti-English prejudice has cropped up.
Yet it has to be said there is an element of it about and I was staggered recently when someone I know, and generally like, defended the anti-English position. The trigger had been an online rant from a mutual acquaintance about “bloody English interfering in Scottish affairs”, and what was being said amounted to blood and soil nationalism. Thats is the sort of view that says Scotland should be for true Scots, that the English vote meant the Indyref disaster and so on. In the same conversation I was called a bleeding heart liberal, told I was an idiot, or at least naïve, for believing in the SNP Civic Nationalism “myth” and called a colonialist. There was a lot of talk about colonialism by the English, and submerging Scottish culture. I was left feeling that I was being held responsible for everything from the clearances down. I was probably embodying the ancient enemy so gallantly fought at Stirling Bridge.
It must be pointed out that Scotland is not particularly unique in suffering from the policies of the UK Government in the recent past. Much the same issues of cuts to services, of land ownership, of running down idustry etc apply to great swathes of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. What makes Scotland an unusal case is its National identity.
Let me say that if I was born into a nation that had suffered hundreds of years of attack and subjugation from a neighbouring country I would feel resentment. I can quite understand an anti-English sentiment in Scotland, in the same way I can understand anti-Turkish feeling in Greece.
I am also very well aware that some try to blame English living in Scotland for the loss of the referendum in 2014.
It is not a surprise that there is a guarded caution, at best, from many that English should be involved in Independence campaigning and that some English are uncertain of what welcome they should get if they tried. This is despite the fact that a good many English born people are fervent supporters of Scottish independence. I know I have been held up as an example of a welcome English activist. There was a clear expectation of trouble when I turned up in Glasgow with an English flag for the Independence march last year, several Scots in the group I travelled with were worried it would be provocative. Even at Glasgow Green in the Autumn stewards were anxiously supportive, one telling me to shout if there was an issue. The reality was warm welcomes, meeting some lovely people and a lot of support. and I will do it again.
So I deonstrated the reality of civic nationalism . There is a but however; since the expectation of trouble in itself says something. It says that there is an awareness of a problem with English people within the Nationlist camp. Scottish Nationalism still has to get to grips with a question. Is it a Scotland for all, or is it a matter of rightfully for true blooded Scots of the proper descent? It seems, to some, it is a matter of “for everyone” (in principle) but that the English are a special case for them.
The Votes -Can you blame the English?
It has been apparent that there is a narrative circulating in pro-Independence circles that the English settlers were responsible for the loss of Indyref. The votes cast in the Independence referendum of 2014 show some curious trends. Whilst Scottish born people did show a slight majority for independence, 52.7% in favour, it was hardly massive. What was possibly more significant than origin was sex, with women 56.6%against, along with age, religion, and class.
Anything beyond a cursory look at the figures shows an attempt to blame any one group for a failure to achieve a yes vote in the 2014 referendum is a waste of time. There are a whole range of issues to be tackled. I would single out the currency as a problem which was badly botched last time, and the whole social security and pensions issue. There was a failure to convince the educated and older people, especially, that an independent Scotland would work. The case was not presented well enough and we need an honest debate and consideration on what went wrong.
The appeal of the idea of barring “foreigners” from voting is to be resisted. It negates any claims of civic nationalism or inclusivity yet I have heard it argued for several times. I know that the Scottish government do not propose any change and I doubt if restricting the franchise would appeal to anyone beyond a certain narrow group anyway. I tend to take the line that anyone chosing to live in Scotland shoud be allowed a vote. One could, however make a very strong case for excluding clearly temporary residents from the IndyRef2 vote. The trends shown n the survey showed a curious blip in the no vote at the age range 20-24 I suspect student voters may be behind this. If I am right of course the 16-20 yes vote excluding students would be higher. Given students can, quite legitimately, have two voter registrations Scottish permanent resident students need not be excluded, they would vote from their home (family? ) address.
The Need to Stamp out Anti-Englishness
I would wave aside problems with being an English Scot as a mere minor upset, except that it fits a pattern, and one which Scotland needs to address. The paradox is that the need is greater for those who really do want independence. Anti-English views lose votes. If nationalism is equated with chauvenism and the wrong sort of rhetoric it actively disuades potential supporters. They will take refuge in Britishness rather than be at risk of extremists as they see it.
The situation has improved over the last few years but the pattern is still there, in the background.
I have been in and around Scotland a long time. Like many Englishmen my first contact was on holiday. Then it was studying at Stirling, and various business trips, so my regular contact goes back well before devolution. It seemed, say 30 years ago, that there was a constant background of Scotland defining itself as being not English, it was “British, but…” One highly educated person of my acquaintance was clear back in the 90’s that he saw “the English” as responsible for everything wrong, including social conditions in Glasgow, the bad state of the roads and all and any problems with the education system. He was also very resentful of jobs in higher education, medicine, social services, the oil industry and government going to anyone English. This of course was the era of Braveheart (the movie) and that did not exactly help either. What I kept hearing was a narrative of Scottish victimhood.
Victims can respond with resentment and petty vengeance. It can take the form of name calling and insult. It can be bullying. I suggest that can be the experience and fear of many of English descent.
It was later that I heard an Englishman in Ayrshire talking about the problems his family had, being called “white settlers” by the locals. He was bemoaning the fact that none of them were prepared to take any initiatives in a rural area. However, social action, even as basic as forming a horticultural club, was denounced as cultural imperialism; importing English ways. (Subsequently many joined and enjoyed it.)
I have heard various tales of being the outsider in work places, the one being resented because a Scot could have done the job and did not get it. I have seen various expressions of resentment that rich English come in and start businesses and what have you. This might be called investing in an area, yet it is described as exploiting.
A friend recalls being pointed out at Schools as “the English boy” by staff, never mind pupils. He did not have a happy time of it. This despite the fact he was born in Scotland and had never lived anywhere else, yet his parents were English.
I concede that the situation has improved since devolution. Yet the murmurings continue. I compare it to the casual sexism that many women suffer day in and day out. An attempt to challenge it leads to dismissal as over-reacting, or “cant take a bit of friendly banter”. Yet it is pernicious. Even the fact shop keepers root through their tills to off load English fivers on me in change gets tedious. What is wrong with English notes anyway? Is everything English tainted in some way? I accept that the person who told me to F off and not meddle in Scottish affairs was an exception, yet it happened. Likewise the attempts to over charge me may or may not be due to my English accent. Yet the fact that it has happened makes one pause.
So I think that a long tradition of anti-English rhetoric has to bear some of the blame for the loss of IndyRef1. There is double whammy to anti-English sentiment. It actively scares Scottish people who have friends and family who are English as well as English Scots themselves. As one put it “Do I want to be in the power of extreme nationalists?” I have had dealings with English people who were Yes voters Yet have moved to no in response to anti-English sentiment since the referendum.
Bland assurances do not suffice given that anti-Englishness is historically rooted in a way that does not apply to any other group who might suffer from Scottish xenophobia. The fact is that the Wars of Independence, the clearances and so on form part of the foundation narrative of the nation. The two front runners for a national anthem, “Scots wha hae” and “Flower of Scotland” are about Bannockburn. That a nation keeps calling to mind anti-Englishness as a part of its identity makes how it treats English residents all the more pressing as a cause for concern. Saying that everyone is welcome will not answer this problem. It may suffice for Poles or Asians, it does not satisfy English residents.
Anti-English racism is racism, yet I have never heard of it being specifically addressed by anyone in power. Raising the issue of SNP silence on this had led to my being called a Unionist plant, and being accused of anti -independence trolling, despite the fact I am very strongly and actively pro-Indy.
Anti-Englishness must be addressed. The largest group in Scotland other than Scottish born are English born. That a number of Scottish born are also of immediate English descent makes the group affected even bigger. They need persuading and reassuring if there is to be a yes vote next time.
I call on all Scots who truly believe in an independent, forward looking Scotland, including the SNP to denounce, very clearly, anti-Englishness.